On September 29, the Indian military came out in the open about its surgical strikes on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control in Kashmir, asserting that it inflicted “significant casualties” on militants waiting to infiltrate.
Pakistan’s military immediately denied that any such strike occurred, but at the same time admitted its two soldiers were killed. Considering the previous track record, it was expected that no one outside Pakistan would take the Pakistan Army’s denial seriously.
However, for a week now, Pakistan has mounted an international effort to disprove the Indian Army’s claim. The refusal of the Indian government to share evidence and conflicting claims over the scale of its strike by some ministers have helped Pakistan convince a large and influential section of the international media to buy its story.
The Indian government’s decision to openly claim the success of this “surgical strike”, and to use it for political purposes, had unnerved the Opposition. However, probing international media reports and refusal of the UN Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) on the strikes have encouraged some key opposition leaders and political commentators in the last two days to ask the government to come out clean.
Instead of providing some evidence to put the record straight, the BJP has decided to use its favourite “anti-national” attack mode against the opposition voices asking for more information – absolute trust in the Army is a must, anyone who questions the Army is anti-national.
It is a matter of grave concern that in Indian democracy, it has become taboo to ask pertinent questions to the armed forces even on vital matters of national interest. Even in Pakistan, there is no such blanket branding of Army critics. This ultra-nationalistic position in India by the ruling party and a section of the media puts a question mark on the state of Indian democracy.
To respect democratic principles and fundamental rights, all state institutions in India including the Army need to stay under democratic control. Unlike Pakistan, the control of the armed forces in India thankfully remains in the hands of democratically elected civilian authorities.
Democracy is difficult to imagine in the absence of civilian primacy over the military. However, the democratic accountability of the armed forces is not only limited to parliamentary control, it also includes being answerable to public opinion, media and society in general.
Civilian audit of the military is one of the cornerstones of democracy. It is essential to maintaining the accountability of armed forces’ personnel to the people, and that legitimises their role and power both at home and abroad. Thus, the Indian Army for its own credibility should appreciate public debate over its actions and effectiveness.
In Indian democracy, a citizen has a right to know what the military does and the Army needs to be transparent. In this hyper-information era, it is almost impossible to hide facts from the public domain for long.